One of the great joys of growing older is relishing an ever-deepening understanding of what I like and don’t like. Hollandaise sauce, dark chocolate, smoky bourbon, Calvin & Hobbes, golden retrievers, Hitchcock films, Louis Armstrong and Shakespeare, for example, are all sources of deep pleasure to me that demand to be embraced. Long speeches, Costco shopping, reality television, frozen pizza, Dan Brown novels, and classic rock radio, on the other hand, are all irritating, and fairly easily avoided.
There are some things, though, that I have been slower in coming to a conclusion about, and one of these is the consistently popular (timeless?) genre (sub genre?) of time travel stories. For years, I had wanted to like them, for some reason, but they invariably made my brain hurt.
As my drinking buddies will readily attest, it’s true that I am no Eisenstein. But I’m not a complete dolt, either. I can pretend to have a decent (although not in-depth) understanding of a fairly wide range of topics, from Restoration drama to the music of Muscle Shoals, from baseball strategy to Nouvelle Vague film directors. I will happily do battle with the T.V. Guide crossword puzzle, or wade through an abstruse article on super models. Mention temporal wormholes or string theory to me, though, and my mind feels as though I’ve been guzzling a full bottle of Nyquil while smacking myself over the head with the complete works of Proust. They make me feel like I’m just not at my sharpest, if you catch my drift. As in, I haven’t got the foggiest clue what they’re going on about.
Case in point: a loved one of mine started talking about this book she had recently read that explained how the time and space variables begin to switch places when you get close to the origin point of the universe. I mean, I just can’t. Can you? Is that not pure gibberish?
The only thing more bewildering to me than the sort of quantum abstractions central to grasping the concepts involved in time travel is when somebody starts prattling on about finances and economics. In fairness, I do realize this may mostly be a me issue. After all, I struggle with the basic concept of the twice-yearly time change, “spring ahead and fall back” being the helpful mnemonic I can eventually bring to mind, and definitely one of the highlights of my elementary school education.
Time and time again (see what I did there?) I have genuinely tried to enjoy time travel stories. Back to the Future was funny, so that was okay. And Groundhog Day had a great script, plus Bill Murray. But The Terminator series, Looper, Primer, Coherence, Doctor Strange…they all left me bored and confused. Worst of all was Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which wasn’t only completely indecipherable, but tossed in a garbled sound mix as well. Watching it in the theatre, it felt like it was only a little bit longer and slightly more incomprehensible than your typical test match cricket game.
Apart from anything else, the idea of time traveling is entirely unappealing to me. From watching Doctor Who episodes, even I can see the perils involved. A quick trip to the past could, for instance, result in me accidentally knocking off one of my ancestors, thereby disrupting the time space continuum, or something, and voiding my own existence whilst creating a multiverse-threatening paradox. I am a clumsy person, and nothing is more likely. Also, what with the so-called butterfly effect in play, even stepping on a cockroach could bring about disaster, and there’s no way I could resist stepping on a cockroach.
So, all things considered, I would much rather travel to Rome or Barcelona and soak up some culture and sun, even if it meant flying economy class with Air Canada, than risk trekking through time. And I probably won’t get back the lost hours I’ve spent watching movies about people who do, either.